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How safe are underwater nuclear tests?

Last updated: Monday, November 05, 2012 12:43 AM

Khadijah Bawazeer


I do not have a sure answer for this question. While watching the news about Hurricane Sandy, a friend of mine who is a news-addict suggested that the increasing number of major environmental crises all over the world might be the aftermath of underwater nuclear testing. The argument is plausible because, although this might not be the sole reason, it seems that the more that underwater nuclear testing occurs, the more tsunamis, hurricanes and floods there are all around the world.

Many if not all countries test nuclear energy underground because this type of testing is a lot more convenient. Such experiments can take place deep in the ocean far away from inhabited land. As a result there are few liability issues because the tests are conducted out of sight in international water and it is easy to deny that they ever took place. Also these experiments usually happen in relative secrecy with only specialists aware of them.

Underwater nuclear testing causes an enormous water surge. This can possibly result in a destructive underwater shockwave that can cause earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis. Needless to say, the resulting radioactive water can harm any inhabitants in a large area radiating out from the place where the nuclear test was conducted. Other features may include disturbed ground, pressure ridges, slumping of the underwater surface, and possible gas leaks.

Underground testing is allowed, provided that it does not cause radioactive debris to be present outside the test area. Yet, history has demonstrated that the dangers of a nuclear experiment and even a nuclear plant are ever present. The effects of an underground nuclear test may vary according to different factors including the depth and yield of the explosion, as well as the nature of the surrounding rock.

This indicates that nuclear power is risky and that it can backfire in spite of all claims as to its safety. Furthermore, the claim that it has a relatively low operational maintenance cost is not so accurate when one considers the amount of money countries have to spend for initial experimentation and when one considers what it takes to deal with the aftermath of even one disaster such as Chernobyl or Fukushima. Therefore, it is safe to say that despite all claims of safety and validity, any nuclear energy plant has the potential of causing enormous damage to the country that it is in as well as to those living beyond the borders of that country.

I am not in favor of underwater and underground nuclear testing because although it is claimed that when the device being tested is buried at sufficient depth, the explosion and its effects can be contained, this is much easier said theoretically than done practically. The worst part of nuclear explosions is the resulting radiation which can have a permanent effect on the earth. Things die and if they live, they are apt to develop cancers. The effect on the global environment and the possible long-term genetic damage resulting from underwater experiments has not been sufficiently studied. There needs to be valid proof of safety before more of these tests are conducted.


— The writer can be reached at

Disclaimer: Writers’ and readers’ opinions do not necessarily reflect Saudi Gazette’s views unless otherwise stated.
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